U.S. Water News Online
AUSTIN, Texas -- A civil trial over pollution from the now closed East Austin gasoline tank farm has ended in an out-of-court settlement.
Terms of the settlement with Coastal States Crude Gathering
the last of more than a dozen oil, distribution, and construction companies
named in the 1992 law suit, were not disclosed. Coastal States spokesman Brian
Mitchell said the company was pleased with the outcome, but declined to
say whether the settlement includes environmental clean-up, cash payments,
or other compensation, citing a confidentiality agreement with plaintiffs.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment.
The jury trial that began Jan. 22, dismissed jurors in early Feb., when attorneys
announced the plaintiffs had agreed to settle. Five large oil companies
-- Chevron, Mobil, Exxon, Star Enterprises, and Texaco -- settled Jan. 24,
and other defendants followed during the next two weeks.
People who live near the 52-acre gasoline storage and
terminal complex at Springdale Road and Airport Boulevard were seeking
compensation for property damage. Because of contamination of some properties
and a general fear of pollution, the appraised value of homes in the
area fell by half or more in 1992.
Paula Gutierrez, one of the original plaintiffs, said she
been told the amount of the settlements. "The majority of the homeowners
are not going to be satisfied with the outcome," she said.
District Judge Joe Hart said the settlement directly affects
four plaintiffs who remained in the last days of the trial. The trial
began with a selected sample of 20, but most settled as the trial progressed.
Gutierrez, 71, has lived for 48 years on Shady Lane, next door
to fuel terminals that companies began closing and dismantling in 1992
under pressure from the county and neighbors. Dangerous chemicals and gasoline
had been detected in soil and groundwater under much of the area.
Gutierrez said she was glad the litigation is over, but
wishes a jury could have heard the whole story and decided the case. She
said she plans to remain in her home, but "will never feel safe in
there," adding that her property is completely contaminated by oil and chemicals.
Not everyone in the neighborhood was part of the lawsuit, said
Gutierrez, and some who weren't are regretting it.
Shady Lane property owner Milton Simon, 82, is among those who
is sorry he did not participate. Simon, who lives about five blocks from Gutierrez,
was unable to attend neighborhood meetings when the lawsuit was discussed.
The appraised value of his house fell from $27,000 to $9,000 in 1992,
he said, and remains at that amount.
"There was a big mistake made," said Simon, who was
not involved in the settlement and did not, therefore, receive any compensation.
"Everybody who got their property value decreased should have been there."
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